So entrenched was the Dutchman’s terror of aviation, after a hoax bomb threat during the 1994 World Cup, that he was excused from his club’s more intrepid European sorties.
One shudders to imagine what he might have made of Arsène Wenger’s decision last Saturday to charter a private jet for that much-plied long-haul route from London Luton to Norwich International – a journey of 100 miles, lasting 14 minutes.
Wenger was fond of lampooning Bergkamp’s aversion to flying, remarking after one Champions League trip to Lyon: “Dennis was disappointed not to be here but he didn’t want to travel by train, either. Perhaps trains are too fast for him as well.”
The manager, naturally, possesses no such qualms about life at 30,000 feet; indeed, one might surmise from the weekend's East Anglian voyage, in which his players spent more time at check-in than in the air, that he derives some curious thrill from being strapped to an aluminium tube.
I almost choked on my Carrow Road coffee when I learnt of
Over to you then, Arsène: “Usually we take the train and there was no train available. So in the end, we decided to fly, because we had to drive up on Friday afternoon at the moment when you never know how long it lasts.”
Comprenez-vous? No, me neither. His logic in arriving in Norfolk from the sky, as if parachuting his men on some death-defying mission to the provincial badlands, was every bit as mangled as his syntax.
At least Jennifer Parkhouse, Norwich coordinator for Friends of the Earth, couched the problem in more forthright language.
“It is absolutely absurd,” she fulminated in the Eastern Daily Press. “I cannot see any reason why they would have flown, other than it being a rather ostentatious display of the players’ and the club’s wealth.”
Admittedly, the Godzilla-like carbon footprint from so needless a trip is difficult to square with an excerpt from Arsenal’s own green policy, which states: “We are committed to taking steps where practicable to minimise any adverse impact we may have on the environment.”
Well, not burning several tonnes of kerosene to spare such delicate lambs as Santi Cazorla and Andre Santos the horrors of a coach ride would, by most definitions, be a practicable step.
But Parkhouse has a point when she suggests that Arsenal’s 14 minutes of infamy were less the product of logistics than of an attitude. We are so far removed from football’s age of innocence, when Tom Finney caught the bus from his plumber’s workshop on Preston match days, that our wealthiest clubs now invariably select the option of conspicuous consumption.
Quite simply, Arsenal fly because they can, adopting a philosophy on away games that might roughly be summarised as: “Get in, get out, ask questions later.”
Implicit in their boarding passes from LTN to NWI (Norwich Airport’s code) is the perception of Norfolk as the most remote of outposts where, to borrow Jeremy Clarkson’s obnoxious archetype, inhabitants all speak like Alan Partridge and shout, “Hey, look, it’s a car!”
In the minds of Arsenal’s insular metropolitan aesthetes,
What an invidious contrast this all forms with events in Greece, where a top-flight club were forced last weekend into a 994-mile round trip by coach, without the use of a hotel.
So cash-strapped are Greek amateur clubs that they have started taking on brothels as shirt sponsors – fans of Voukefalas were taken aback recently to see their players in pink practice jerseys emblazoned with ‘Villa Erotica’ – but the national debt crisis is no less acutely felt in the top flight.
Veria FC, 11th in the table, endured 8½ hours on the motorway en route to Asteras Tripolis, a 3-0 defeat, and another 8½ hours back. This dishevelled brigade eventually arrived home at 5am.
No one is recommending the Veria alternative to Arsenal, even if it might confer a precious sense of perspective upon Olivier Giroud and his fellow casual jet-setters.
Then again, the Luton Airport special hardly redounded to their advantage, as they proceeded to lose 1-0 to Norwich with their most supine performance of the season. Bergkamp, as a member of the 2004 ‘Invincibles’, should have permitted himself a chuckle.
It was, he might care to have noted, not the first time in the eight intervening years that Arsenal had chosen flight over fight.